Submitted by Jim Goldstein
(Town of Lebanon, NY – Nov. 2012) Lebanon town board members made some minor amendments to the preliminary 2013 town budget during their budget workshop on Oct. 22 and will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget Thursday, Nov. 8, at 8 p.m. at the Town Office, 1210 Bradley Brook Road in the hamlet.
Town board members added about $2,000 to the town budget in anticipated expenditures primarily due to 3-percent salary increases for Town Clerk/Tax Collector Nicole Viera, Town Highway Superintendent Alex Hodge and Town Bookkeeper Elaina Morgan. The increases were balanced out by fund balance increases and anticipated sales tax revenues. The proposed tax rate and tax levy will remain almost identical.
Town board members also interviewed Brian M. Fitts to fill out the remainder of retired Assessor David Gray’s term. Gray resigned effective Sept. 30, with one year to go in his six-year term. Town board members noted that the Coordinated Assessment Program local law adopted by all three towns – Eaton, Georgetown and Lebanon – in 1995 requires that a majority of the town boards of each town have to approve the appointment of a new assessor.
Lebanon officials had been outspoken in their objections to the decision by Eaton Supervisor Priscilla Suits to solicit and arrange for the appointment of Fitts to the position without following the local law, which requires interviews by each town board. Town officials will determine by their Nov. 12 meeting whether they will agree to appoint Fitts to the assessor position until Sept. 30, 2013, or canvass for other potential candidates and do additional interviews.
Lebanon will have to appoint an assessor by Jan. 15 if it plans to leave the CAP or may recommend a different assessor to the other town boards in the CAP. By law, an assessor cannot be appointed without the agreement of the majority of the town boards of all three towns, but Fitts was appointed and started work through the town of Eaton several weeks ago.
Fitts confirmed during the interview that he was contacted directly by Suits about the position and did not learn about it by advertisement. Goldstein said Suits told him that she had no intention of canvassing for the position when he challenged her method of selection over a month ago and reported to the town board she told him “if you don’t like it, leave the CAP.”
Town officials were advised by Suits through Goldstein that they could attend a Sept. 11 Eaton Town Board meeting where Fitts was going to be appointed but that there would be no advertising for other candidates. Town board members have directed Goldstein to explore options, which included leaving the CAP and hiring their own assessor or forming a CAP with another town.
Town Attorney Steven Jones was consulted and discovered that the 1995 local law governing the CAP does require the consent of the majority of all three towns in any hiring or major decision, and he has been in contact with the other two towns’ legal counsel to attempt to resolve the matter.
Fitts is assessor for the city of Norwich, towns of Cazenovia and Coventry and would also oversee the three towns in the CAP if all three towns agree to the appointment.
In Other Business
Town officials also met with representatives of the Georgetown rescue squad volunteers who man the Georgetown ambulance to discuss potential changes in who will provide the ambulance service to the Georgetown Fire District portion of the township due to a state determination that Georgetown cannot contract with other towns for ambulance service.
Georgetown is in discussions with its ambulance volunteers about a possible separation that would allow the volunteer department to go out on their own and file their own Certificate of Need with the state Public Health Department, from a 501(c)3 nonprofit, separate from Georgetown and contract to continue to provide the ambulance services to Georgetown and surrounding areas including portions of Lebanon (hamlet and Georgetown fire contract area) and Nelson (Erieville area).
Goldstein and town board members discussed the issues of concern with Assistant Squad Captain Lyle Mason, also a Georgetown councilman, and other ambulance representatives. Mason reviewed the recent developments and options including takeover of the ambulance and equipment and how long the process might take.
The Georgetown ambulance service has the most rapid response time to the Georgetown fire contract area, and Goldstein said the town board would want to continue the service to ensure the best and safest response time. He also said he has reached out to Assemblyman William Magee for assistance in helping to fast-track a solution so the town would not face the potential loss of service in January 2013.
Town board members discussed various coverage options, which included pursuing contracts with Eaton or SOMAC or keeping the service with the ambulance corps of Georgetown. Town officials favored keeping it with Georgetown. Town officials also amended the 2013 budget to include the SOMAC increase request of $700 to increase their contract to $3,200 for ambulance coverage in the Earlville and Hamilton fire contract areas.
Town officials have also invited Stephen Keyes of Emkey Resources, formerly Norse Energy, Inc., to attend the Nov. 12 town board meeting to present preliminary information on a new proposed pipeline route in the township for natural gas that will involve Broome, Chenango and Madison counties.
Jim Goldstein is supervisor, town of Lebanon.